As world leaders meet in South Africa this week to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and one of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century, Detroit is not being left out. The Motor City is being represented at the global event by some of the city’s leaders from across the political and religious communities.
Congressman John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and the highest-ranking Democrat in the House Judiciary Committee, joined 25 other members of the U.S. Congress as part of the official congressional delegation to South Africa to honor the legend of Mandela, whose struggles for equality mirrored the civil rights battles in America.
Conyers was part of an international memorial service held Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Soweto’s FNB Stadium in Johannesburg attended by 91 heads of state including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as well as former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, British Prime Minister David Cameron, President of France Francois Hollande, President of Ireland Michael Higgins, President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan, Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, Oprah Winfrey and other figures and icons in religion, politics, arts, sports and entertainment also were in attendance at the service, which also marked the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Some leaders from around the world are arriving in the middle of the week to attend Mandela’s solemn funeral on Dec. 15 at his hometown of Qunu where he requested to be buried.
Bishop P.A. Brooks, senior pastor of New St. Paul Tabernacle Church of God in Christ (COGIC), who is the first assistant presiding bishop of COGIC, the largest African American Christian denomination of 6.5 million members with strong evangelical presence in Africa, left Tuesday morning for South Africa to attend the funeral.
The funeral on Sunday, just like the memorial service held Tuesday, will have the attendance of world leaders including Prince Charles of Wales, the heir to the British throne, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Norweigan Crown Prince top government officials from Saudi Arabia and other world leaders
“I remember when I landed at the airport in South Africa with former mayor Coleman Young and our delegation, Mandela was there to welcome us,” Brooks recalled. “As soon as we landed, he recognized me because I was a principle member of the Detroit group of dignitaries that welcomed him to Detroit with Rosa Parks.”
Brooks, Young and other leaders in the city traveled to South Africa then after Mandela’s release from prison to present him with a million dollar check. To this day the city has been credited to have given the most financial support of any other city in America to Mandela following his prison release.
“I remember going to his house and have had the opportunity to interact with him two years before he became president of South Africa,” Brooks said. “While many spoke to him and shook his hand on American soil, I was humbled to have met and engaged the man on his own soil from where he transformed the world and inspired all of us.”
Brooks said Mandela’s funeral is an extremely important event that not only belongs to the annals of global history, but also one that will be talked about and reflected upon for generations to come.
Because of what he described as a deep sense of historical and spiritual obligation as a minister, Bishop Brooks said, “I must attend this generational tribute as a minister who continues to capture firsthand experiences of life-changing events and to preach it to my members. As a public figure I cannot but share in this generational experience with families and individuals who are keenly observing what is happening with the honor that Mandela is receiving.”
The Church of God in Christ, which Brooks serves as the second in command, has a vibrant presence in South Africa with outreach ministries.
On its website, Charles E. Blake, the presiding bishop of COGIC, said the church “pays homage and salutes Madiba.”
Bishop Blake said, “I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island. Standing in the place where this great man spent time praying and believing that one day he could make a difference was powerful and humbling. The strength, tenacity and courage of Mandela will always be remembered. The words of Madiba remind us of what it takes to be a great leader.”